CHICAGO, Jan. 14, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Most consumers dream of the day they get a letter in the mail awarding them a prize of $5,000 a week, for life - that's just the situation scammers are presenting to unsuspecting individuals as a means to steal their hard-earned cash. That's why AARP Fraud Watch Network is warning consumers to be aware of this particular scam as the deadline for the Publishing Clearing House Sweepstakes approaches.
"Winning a sweepstake promising a weekly, massive check is something most people could only imagine happening to them," said AARP Illinois Communications Manager Gerardo Cardenas. "Scammers know that and are preying on people who are too overwhelmed with the thought of having actually won the Publishing Clearing House Sweepstakes to think logically about the situation."
The winners of the sweepstake—a one in 1.7 billion chance—aren't being awarded until February 26, but law enforcement throughout the nation report "winners" are already getting congratulations via phone calls, emails, letters, and social media messages. At some point a scam artist will ask for money to be sent to cover some type of fee in order to receive the prize. Publishing Clearing House never requires a fee to receive their prize, and no legitimate contest, sweepstake, or lottery will ever ask for any upfront fee to claim winnings.
Scammers will claim money is required upfront to pay taxes or processing fees before the prize can be awarded. Normally they'll request money ranging from several hundred to thousands of dollars be sent through money order, wire transfer, or a prepaid debit card. In addition to these commonly used tricks, consumers should also know:
- If you didn't enter, you didn't win.
- If you entered and actually won a Publishing Clearing House prize, a Prize Patrol van will contact you in person, oversized check and camera crew included.
- If you win one of the smaller prizes, you'll be notified by overnight delivery services or certified mail/email.
- Don't believe "You've Won!" phone calls, text messages, Facebook notifications, emails, or "regular" USPS-delivered letters. Publishing Clearing House and most other contests don't notify winners that way.
- If asked to contact a "claims agent"—with or without an accompanying fake check—know the call back number is to a scammer who will try to talk you into paying the initial request amount. Expect to be bombarded with endless phone calls and letters alleging new, "unexpected" fees until you have no money left to give.
- Be wary of area codes 284, 809, or 876. They're linked to Caribbean islands known for calling scams that also run up your phone bill and make you a target for future scams.
- If they ask you details of your financial accounts to "credit" the discussed account with your winnings, know that's another scam that will enable them to drain your account.
Last year, sweepstake scams were one of the most reported scams to AARP's Fraud Watch Network. It was also reported by the Federal Trade Commission that false winners in the 55 to 64 age group were twice as likely to fall for sweepstake scams, and those 65+ have almost triple the rate. If anything, check with the sweepstake company directly if you think you've won but aren't sure if it's legitimate.
In 2014, AARP launched the Fraud Watch Network to arm Americans with the tools and resources they need to spot and avoid scams and identity theft. But scammers are still out there, making every attempt possible to cheat consumers out of their hard-earned money. The public can sign up for free to receive Fraud Watch Network alerts and more at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork
SOURCE AARP Illinois